Once upon a time I fell in love with a poet.
The problem, of course, was that I’d never met this poet. His name was Sam Witt (and he’s not even one of those really famous poets that even non-poetry-people have heard of!). He gave a reading from his newest book of poetry at my university in Spring 2008. I sat in the back row of the small conference room that had been reserved for his reading, sitting beside my undergraduate advisor/poetry professor/somewhat-friend.
My poetry professor was a small bird-thin woman in her mid-60s who wore eccentric colorful clothing and more jewelry than a queen in a Alfons Mucha painting. She was the Poet Laureate of the Harvard Alumni Association, and told the craziest stories I’d ever heard. For reasons I will never understand, but will always be grateful for, she allowed me to hang around in her office and talk about family and dreams and books I’d read. And she even made mention of me once in one of her poems…. Okay, so I was maybe a tiny bit in love with her too, in a strange platonic way.
In any case, I’d come to the poetry reading with her. She’d met Sam Witt once before, and insisted I would like his poetry (I’d never read his work before). We sat side by side. I waited through the brief introduction, and then a man walked to the front of the room. He was short for a man, possibly only a handful of inches taller than me (and I’m very short, even for a woman), slight and youngish — that night after the reading I did my research and found that he was 15 years older than me (totally doable, right?). He was unassuming, quiet-looking.
When he spoke, his voice was gentle but clear. I leaned forward to catch every shift in tone. When he read his poetry, everything around me stopped. Just. Stopped. I held my breath.
At one point, I remember quite clearly leaning closer to my poetry professor and saying: “I think I’m a little in love.” She huffed a little chuckle. Two or three poems later, I leaned over again and added: “Definitely in love.”
“I’ll introduce you,” my professor replied.
And she did. When the reading had ended, and I had bought both of Sam Witt’s books, my professor dragged me to the front of the room, and introduced us. I believe I handled the conversation well, didn’t stutter or cry, smiled politely — he could not have suspected I was swooning inside; he could not have suspected I was planning our wedding; he could not have suspected the frantic ringing in my ears. I smiled and nodded as he talked, told him I enjoyed his poetry, and he signed my books, and then I left. (And went home to research everything about him, because why not? And daydreamed about meeting him again and asking him out for coffee or something else equally inane).
I have, of course, never seen him again. I follow him on Twitter now, like any fan waiting for news on his next book or project, but I have never dared to message him. Why would I? My infatuations are never rational or reasonable or reciprocated. All I can do is sit and stew on my own for awhile.
It’s been years now. I wouldn’t say I’m still in love with him, though I break out his books and re-read them and try to remember precisely what tone he used for each line and phrase. I like to torture myself with my infatuations with a recurring intensity that is not the slightest bit healthy or sane.
Last summer I accidentally fell in love with another poet. One I actually know, a friend in fact. Story of my life, frankly. Falling in love with friends and poets. This poet: a woman ironically also 15 years older than me, just like Sam Witt. Brave and fragile and even more broken than me, with wild blue hair and too-thin wrists and deliriously-long fingers and a wispy-reedy-plaintive singing voice. Her life has that kind of breathless cinematic abandon I expect in Greek tragedy, or the poetry of the great confessional poets. Her mind works in ways I wish I could capture in glass or paint or song. Shockingly, she even deigned to go on a handful of dates with me (I will never understand why, but I am grateful).
Several dates and one “I’m sorry this was a bad idea” later, we’re still friends. At least on paper. Don’t see each other much but Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and the occasional text keep us together.
Last month when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage we went out for drinks to celebrate. Two bi women, neither of us in a relationship (except for the half of a relationship I’m still in with her), at a gay bar drinking ridiculously brightly-colored drinks. An open karaoke mic called to her, and she stumbled through the lyrics of “Born This Way” while I laughed (too loudly) and took pictures with my phone. Her hair was still wild and blue. She wore a black skirt. She couldn’t remember half the lyrics. And I stood there in jeans and boots holding both our drinks, wishing to god she would take me home with her that night.
Of course, she didn’t. We went our separate ways home at 2a.m., and teased each other when we were both on Twitter an hour later.
Her twitter feed reads like something between a cry, and laugh, and a poem. In many ways she is a poem. She’s just not my poem.
And completely by accident, she broke my heart.
Or perhaps it is more accurate to say, just as with Sam Witt, I recklessly witlessly, like-tripping-down-the-stairs-in-the-dark, broke my own heart over her.
But anyway, at least I have Sam Witt’s voice recorded for posterity on the internet, for those nights when I get lonely.